Major overhaul for Western Australia’s anti-discrimination laws

Western Australia’s anti-discrimination laws are set for a major overhaul with McGowan Government announcing it will broadly support a raft of recommendations for change.

In 2019, the Attorney General asked the LRCWA to provide advice and recommendations to Government on possible amendments to enhance and update the Act.

The Law Reform Commission of Western Australia’s (LRCWA) final report makes 163 recommendations to make the State’s anti-discrimination laws fair and effective.

Tabling the report the government said there was overwhelming public interest in the project, with an extensive discussion paper published in 2021. In response, the LRCWA received 995 written submissions and undertook seven online and in-person public consultation sessions.

The Government has broadly accepted the recommendations with further consideration to be given to the extent they will be implemented, however several key reforms are expected to be included in the Bill including:

  1. removing the outdated “disadvantage test” for sexual harassment complainants, in line with the Community Development and Justice Standing Committee’s report into sexual harassment against women in the FIFO mining industry – “Enough is Enough”;
  2. strengthening equal opportunity protections for LGBTIQA+ staff and students in religious schools;
  3. providing anti-discrimination protections to those who are trans, gender-diverse or non-binary without the need for recognition from the Gender Reassignment Board;
  4. extending the prohibition against sexual and racial harassment to members of Parliament and Parliament staff, judicial officers and court staff, local government councillors and staff, and unpaid or volunteer workers;
  5. protecting family and domestic violence victims from discrimination;
  6. introducing anti-vilification laws; and
  7. strengthening victimisation provisions.

The government says the new Act will bring WA into line with other jurisdictions and ensure the State has modern, fair and effective anti-discrimination laws that make it easier for the community – including individuals, employers and service providers – to read and understand their rights and obligations.

Attorney General John Quigley said the introduction of the the Equality Opportunity Act was one of the most major social reforms in WA’s history, but it was time for the Act to be revised to meet modern expectations.

“The Equal Opportunity Act was one of the most significant social reforms in WA’s history when it was introduced by the then Labor Government 38 years ago.

“Since WA’s nation-leading anti-discrimination laws were first introduced, community expectations regarding discrimination have progressed and WA now lags behind most other jurisdictions.” Quigley said on Tuesday.

“These changes will be a significant reform in promoting equality in Western Australians and will bring the State in line with the rest of the country.

“This is not about granting additional rights to any one group of people, but ensuring all Western Australians are free from discrimination, harassment, vilification and victimisation.

“Importantly, these changes will make Parliament and our court system safer workplaces and ensure action can be taken against cases of sexual and racial harassment.

“Whilst still subject to drafting and further consideration, it is our ambition that the new Bill will achieve a balance between the rights and interests of a wide variety of Western Australians and ensure that employers are not unnecessarily burdened with complex legislation.

“The new Equal Opportunity Act will streamline the operation of the Equal Opportunity Commission, which will be given broader discretion to dismiss trivial or unworthy complaints and to focus on its roles of complaint resolution and community education.” the state’s Attorney General said.

Graeme Watson 

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